Updated: Oct 3
27th September 2020
It is a well-known fact that a leading cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels by vehicles and industries. However, something that is lesser known is the profound impact that animal agriculture has on the planet.
Rearing cattle for dairy products and consumption is the leading contributor of greenhouse gases — releasing more gas than all sectors of transportation combined. Methane emissions by cows are far more potent than carbon dioxide. Animal agriculture not only increases the amount of methane and carbon dioxide in the air but also is a cause for deforestation.
Rainforests are being depleted at a rate of one acre per second to make more area for grazing cattle. This increases carbon emissions that get trapped within the atmosphere and therefore, simultaneously increases the temperature of the planet globally. This increase in temperature causes the polar ice caps to melt at a rapid rate — increasing the sea level and flooding landmass.
A highly operative and sustainable shift that one can make on an individual scale is switching to a plant-based vegan diet. According to Oxford University, substituting to a vegan diet could reduce the carbon footprint of an individual up to seventy-three per cent. Unlike renewable resources that would take time and money to develop, a vegan diet is immediate and has several benefits for both the environment and personal health.
According to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, fifty-three per cent of plant protein being grown in the world is used to feed animals. If instead of animals, this feed was given to the starving people around the globe, world hunger rates would drop significantly.
According to a 1997 Cornell ecologist’s analysis, animal protein yields only 1.4 times more nutrition to humans than the comparable amount of plant protein. On the other hand, animal protein production requires over eight times as much fossil-fuel energy as the production of plant protein — indicating that going vegan could also save energy.
In terms of water, livestock not only consumes but also pollutes a lot of the freshwater available. The dairy industry uses 1000 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk, and almost 900 gallons of water are required to make one pound of cheese. Saving this water could potentially provide drinking water to people who lack access to clean drinking water.
If the eighty-three per cent of land being used to breed and feed the cows were restored — wildlife affected by habitat loss would return. The parts of oceans affected by overfishing and dead zones would reduce, and trees would be able to minimise acidification by purifying the carbon dioxide laden air.
Veganism, according to a UN report, ‘is a step in the right direction for global sustenance’. The current generation is the last generation that can do something to win the battle against global warming and potential extinction of many species, including our own.
(Sources: Cowspiracy: A Sustainability Secret (2014), The Guardian, Food for Life Global, Global Citizen) Edited by Meghna Venkatesh